The potential of Blockchain is versatile and immense – so the mantra goes. While some they are trying to create passports on the blockchain, others are using it to vote locally. But what about the health sector? Can technology help revolutionize the pivotal industry that affects the lives of many?
The story of Alyssa Hemmelgarn, aged nine, may prompt you to ask this question. In 2007, he felt sick and was admitted to a Denver hospital. Slowly his condition began to worsen. He deteriorated every day and died shortly thereafter Clostridium difficile, an infection that has collected in that hospital. Wrong sentences were the reason for his tragic death.
The dangers of health care
The girl's story is strict. But, unfortunately, it is not unique. Medical errors cause a third (about 250,000) deaths each year. And this is only in the United States. This means that you are almost as likely to die because of a doctor's mistake like cancer and heart disease.
This fact – along with a plethora of others – has pushed governments to increase their health care expenditures. In 2018, the WSJ noted that the United States "will soon spend almost 20% of its GDP" on health care. European countries, such as Luxembourg and Sweden, are already spending a considerable sum of 5,557 euros and 4,938 euros per inhabitant each year. Yet despite attempts to improve the industry, it remains vulnerable to errors, data breaches and fraud. The design of current systems used in the health sector, such as Electronic Healthcare System (EHS), does little to solve these problems.
Is the immutable, tamper evident, decentralized and secure blockchain technology becoming a solution? Can it help to avoid poor medical judgments and save innocent lives?
In reality, the answer may surprise you.
Blockchain in medical vogue
While some are still doubting the potential of technology, and some are tearing it to pieces, the health sector is not just evaluating the usefulness of blockchain. Instead, he has long chosen to adopt vogue technology.
In 2017, IBM conducted a study that showed that about 16% of healthcare executives were planning to implement blockchain solutions by the end of the year. Another 56% were planning to do so by 2020.
Enthusiasm has not vanished. On the contrary, since 2017 it has become even more widespread. John Halamka, Chief Information Officer at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, is one of the biggest advocates of blockchain today who thinks technology can help sort out patients' scattered data.
To fully explore the potential of the blockchain, he took over the post of chief editor of the new blockchain academic journal in Healthcare Today last March. The ultimate goal of this, according to Halamka, is "to publish high quality opinion articles and research articles on use cases that really require blockchain." The magazine currently boasts over 20,000 downloads and readers in 65 countries around the world and continually advances new research in the field.
Halamka's devotion to the cause is shared by other experts. Greg Matthews, the creator of MDigitalLife, is among them. He believes that:
"Blockchain could have the greatest impact on health care in enabling health outcomes that have a 360-degree view of the patient's genetic profile, demographic and socioeconomic status, behaviors that affect their health and their response to different treatments or combinations of treatments ".
Jack Liu, CEO of ALLIVE, an intelligent health ecosystem based on blockchain technology, is so enthusiastic. He claims that the blockchain with its innate verification process can help fight fraud in the industry.
You are what pills you take
One wonders how exactly the blockchain can improve the health sector? Where can it be used and for what? IBM offers a good overview of the issue. The company outlines three general use cases: drug traceability, clinical trials and patient data management.
Drug traceability is an obvious issue. According to the World Health Organization, one in ten drugs worldwide is false. This means that millions of people are at risk of taking medicines that could damage them or even kill them. Blockchain that operates on smart contracts can help to solve it, since every transaction is both immutable and dated. This means that all parties involved in the supply chain have access to information and verify it on the blockchain. If someone identifies a less than recommendable detail, it is easy to trace his origin.
Then there is a problem of veracity of information in clinical trials. Before any drug ends up on the shelves of pharmacies, it is subject to scrupulous checks. The tests are inconvenient and involve a collection of multifaceted data. If a researcher loses it or fraud, this creates problems. Again blockchain can help improve the situation. The technology can provide proof of the existence of any document and allow anyone to verify the authenticity of a document.
For example, when a person in charge of collecting test data collects it, he will send it via a SHA256 calculator. In turn, it will provide a hash that will contain information about the specific content of a document such as the test protocol. Once again, nobody can tamper with the information that the other parties must verify. So the algorithm significantly reduces the risk of fraud.
Each patient is unique
There is another important detail – and this is the patient. Some analysts have described the blockchain solution in health care as a patient-centered system. In other words, the patient is his main beneficiary, as technology helps to manage large volumes of dispersed data. Current systems, such as the aforementioned EHS, "have never been designed to handle multi-institutional medical records, for a lifetime". Moreover, since these records are often accumulated throughout life in a variety of institutions.
As a result, a doctor who has never treated you is not aware of the whole medical picture. As a result, he / she could determine the wrong diagnosis – as in the case of Alyssa – or give you a defective medication. Again, this could prove to be dangerous. The problem is deepened, because so far the competent institutions have not created a universally recognized patient identifier.
Shaun Grannis, the director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics, clarifies the problem. He says that:
"Statistics show that up to one in five patients is not exactly matched even within the same health system, about half of patient records do not match when data is transferred between health systems."
Blockchain can help in various ways. For example, it can serve as a position for all data relating to a particular patient. Once the information is there, the system will generate a hash that stores and fixes data on the blockchain. The owner of the information, in this case the patient, will receive a public encryption key.
Subsequently, if the owners decide to do so, they can always share their complete medical records with others. IBM explains: "For example, it could share identifiable data with its physicians and unidentifiable data with Big Pharmas looking for phase IV information."
Furthermore, the data recorded on the blockchain ensure its integrity, which means that it is impossible to make changes to it once it is there. This is especially important if a patient brings an institution to court.
The next love and marriage
IBM also believes that while IoT develops, blockchain can help protect data generated by wearable devices, such as Apple Watch. IBM states that "This type of data could be used in patient interest to track activity, set goals and adapt treatments, all of which can be done through smart contracts." Rena Tabata, CEO of Think Tank Innovations, he agrees and points out that "Blockchain could soon allow smartwatches and smartphones to upload clinical information directly to the medical record."
In fact, blockchain offers a myriad of solutions – both partial and in-depth – to address some of the most acute problems in the health sector. But what's even more important is that industry players are embracing technology. And this is not a surprise. After all, according to a report by the BIS research blockchain and its qualities can save the health industry up to $ 100 billion annually by 2025. The report also estimates that "a global blockchain in the health market it will grow to a CAGR of 63.85% from 2018 to 2025, to reach a value of $ 5.61 billion by 2025. "
So it's just a matter of time before the blockchain and health care evolve into a full-time love and a modern-style marriage.